It’s ironic that Red Notice made history by using drones for cinematography, because I think those same robots had a hand in writing the screenplay. Every moment of this ridiculously expensive, wholly bloodless enterprise feels that hollow and mechanical. I picture several cyborgs sitting at keyboards, clacking away furiously and speaking in their nasally, monotonous robot voices: “Page 47; insert humorous banter about male genitalia here. Pause for laughter” “Page 65; now preparing action beat and plot twist to close out second act.” Unfortunately, Red Notice shares the same problem as The Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man. For all its superstar leads and high production values, this movie lacks heart. And courage. And brains, for that matter.
The story boots up with a bizarre flashback that feels like a cross between an old-timey adventure flick and a dream I might have after too many spicy gorditas: Thousands of years ago, Cleopatra is gifted with three diamond-pocked eggs. Yes, you read that right. Eventually, the eggs go missing until two are found on a farm by…YAWWWWNNNNnnnnnnNNNNNNNNnnnnn…woo-boy! I’m gonna need a little caffeine to finish this review. Anyway, one of the eggs is still lost. Or is it? Dun DUN DUNNNN!!!
Flash forward to the (insert Dr. Evil air quotes) “present day.” Nolan Booth (Van Wilder) is the world’s premier art thief. At least that’s what he thinks…tee-hee! Booth’s got stealth like James Bond and the sass-mouth of Deadpool, even though one of those traits would seem to cancel out the other. Anyway, he sets his greedy little eyes on the eggs-act location of the third artifact, when Johnny Law arrives in the burly form of Special Agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson). Booth gets tossed in the clink, presumably for the rest of his days.
But wait–those steel robots are about to chuck what pitching coaches refer to as a “hangin’ curveball:” An elusive cat burglar, code-named “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot) has entered the game. Turns out, she’s the real MVP of the thieves’ guild, and retrieving all three eggs is now her top priority. The Bishop frames Agent Hartley and gets him shipped to the same Siberian pokey as Booth. Anybody who’s seen any movie–or at least ten minutes of The Odd Couple–knows what that means: Ol’ Felix and Oscar have to work through their intense dislike and distrust of one another to find those eggs and clear Hartley’s good name.
This sets up a second act filled with what a grizzled prospector might refer to as “a buncha no-good dadgum shenanigans.” Booth and Hartley stage a breakout of their Soviet gulag, and it’s honestly one of the least suspenseful action scenes in recent memory. In fact, this stretch of the film really captures what’s wrong with the movie as a whole: Everything–whether it’s the CGI bullets thudding into CGI henchmen, or the CGI chopper spinning over CGI mountains–looks so gloriously fake, while the badinage between Reynolds and The Rock feels so ridiculously stilted and scripted, that it’s almost impossible for any of this to generate any actual interest.
And that’s just the beginning. Red Notice actually gets worse as it fumbles along. Those pesky replicants serve up so many goofy twists and double crosses that this movie makes Scooby-Doo feel like a Tennessee Williams play by comparison. Now, don’t get my curmudgeonly grumbling twisted: I’m all in for a movie that refuses to take itself seriously. A goofy movie can be a great palate-cleaner, even if it ends up being A Goofy Movie. But even the silliest of comedies has to be tethered to reality, and that’s not true for one minute of this film.
To be honest, I’m not even sure how much blame to put on the actors. They really just do what they normally do: Reynolds lobs out grimy jokes about how the back of Johnson’s head looks like a bunched-up scrotum. Johnson arches his trademarked eyebrow and throws out a few stern comments in a Jack Webb monotone. Gadot’s character is smarter than either of those guys, while the actress seems too intelligent for the movie itself. Ritu Arya gets stuck playing a Fed on the trail of all three leads, while Chris Diamantopoulos (is that name Greek?) chews the scenery as an arms dealer named Sotto Voce. That means “Quiet Voice,” but I’m gonna bet 6-to-5 and pick-em that you won’t care about that or just about anything else about any of these characters.
The ‘bots pull their meanest trick at the movie’s end: Somewhere around page 115, paragraph 2, they set up an inevitable sequel. Merde. If that story begins the way this one ends, it’s already in big trouble. Maybe the filmmakers can visit the great and powerful Oz, and he can bless that movie with a soul.
118 min. PG-13. Netflix.